THE Bendigo Braves have been unable to force their way into the SEABL south conference top four, despite a 10 point win over Sandringham Sabres at Bendigo Stadium on Saturday night.
Coach Ben Harvey's Braves were forced to dig deep against a spirited Sabres, who kept coming at the reigning national champions all night.
C. J. Aiken was the star for the Braves with 33 points, 14 points and four assists in a 92-82 win.
It was a must-win for the Braves, who lost Friday night's encounter against Frankston Blues 95-102 in overtime.
It was the second time in a month Bendigo had dropped a game to the Blues, who sit three wins behind the Braves on the conference ladder.
The Braves (10-11) continue to trail North West Tasmania (10-10) in the chase for fourth spot, despite the Thunder losing its Saturday contest to Hobart Chargers 88-65.
The Braves received a boost pre-game against the Sabres, with co-captain Taylor Bell suiting up for only the fourth time this season.
The 2016 championship player did not take the court, but his availability over the remaining weeks of the season would be a bonus for the Braves.
The home side was able to take a five point advantage into the first break, courtesy of a long-range three-pointer from Dyami Starks on the buzzer.
But the star import had one of his quietest games of the season with just 10 points.
Aiken and Adam Doyle (25 points and a game-high nine assists) were nevertheless able to keep the scoreboard ticking, along with co-captain Chris Hogan (10 points).
The Sabres were able to keep pace with the Braves in the second half, but were unable to erase a nine point half time deficit by game's end.
Import Jerry Evans was the shining light for Sandringham with 25 points and 12 rebounds.
On Friday night, the Braves were forced to play catch up in the final quarter after trailing at each of the first three breaks against Frankston.
The Braves responded with a 21-16 final quarter to send the game into overtime.
But it was to no avail as the Blues regrouped to outscore the Braves 13-6 to grab the win.
Point guard Doyle top scored for the Braves with 25 points, Starks contributed 22, while C. J. Aiken added 18 points and had 12 rebounds.
Imports Bennie Lewis (28 points) and Alex Francis (21 points and 11 rebounds) had big games for Frankston.
The Braves continue their season next Saturday night against arch-rival Ballarat Miners, ahead of a July 29 home clash against North West Tasmania Thunder.